Digital locks are nothing new. They’ve been popping up on Singapore doors for years! Door and lock retailers have evolved into fully fledged digital lock specialists showcasing the usual celebrity endorsements. There are many brands to choose from, and countless models. It gets a bit mindboggling, and at some point, consumers are pretty much left making decisions based on brand and price.
At Homesmart.sg, we only have one digital lock, the Aqara N100 Smart Door Lock. Obviously, as a seller of door locks, we’re going to be a bit sus in our door lock recommendations, but don’t worry. This guide will make general recommendations for door locks, and you can make your own conclusions!
First off, definitions! What’s a digital lock?
What’s a digital lock?
A digital lock is one that has multiple unlocking methods – basically digital methods. Let’s not go into tech specifics and leave it as this: traditional locks unlock using a key inserted into a lockset, and works mechanically. The unlocking method is mechanical, and analogue.
Digital locks, on the other hand, support other unlocking methods, such as
- Biometrics (fingerprints)
- RFID or NFC cards
Just these three functions make a huge difference in your daily life, because they basically allow you to go keyless! Bringing keys around may not sound like a big thing, since you’re used to doing it your whole life, but once you go keyless, the freedom is hard to give up after.
Many (but not all) digital locks also support physical keys.
Besides being able to go keyless, digital locks are also (usually) more secure than traditional locks. Many people have the misconception that digital locks are easy to hack, and while this is a valid concern, they don’t realize is how easy it is to pick normal door locks.
What’s a smart lock?
A smart lock is a digital lock that has smart functions. Why do you need a lock to be smart? You don’t, really, but it may be nice to have, once in a while.
What smart functions? Generally:
- Door lock statuses can be checked on app (door locked, door unlocked, door opened)
- Remote locking / unlocking using your phone
- Phone notifications on door lock states (e.g. The door was unlocked at 3.30 pm!)
- One-time passwords / Guest unlock methods
- Automations involving door, such as turning on the lights when door is unlocked from the outside
We don’t consider any of these critical, just nice to have.
Choosing a lock step 1: Identifying your door + lock
OK OK, with the definitions out of the way, let’s get back to the question of how to choose a nice, new lock. First thing to note: locks and doors are not universally compatible! You can’t just choose a lock and expect it to work – you have to choose a lock that will work with your door! (Unless you’re getting a new lock + new door, in which case you’re pretty free to choose whatever you want).
So, here are the common locks you’ll find in Singapore:
A mortise lock is commonly found in Singapore – it’s a one-piece door lock that includes both the handle and the lock. Most HDB BTOs uses these as default.
A deadbolt is a single piece of lock that’s separate from the handle. It can be placed quite far apart.
Rim latch lock
This is something like an add-on to your door, adding a new layer on both the door and the frame. Usually only found in older homes.
Choosing your lock step 2: Compatible digital lock types
The types of digital locks available pretty much follows the traditional types in the segment above. There are mortise types, deadbolt types, and rim latch types.
There’s also a push-pull type, which is basically mortise types, just without the handles.
The Aqara N100 Smart Door lock is a mortise type:
The August Wifi smart lock is a deadbolt type:
The Samsung SHS-2920 is a rim latch lock:
This Philips 1000 Alpha series (we actually don’t know what it’s called, but DDL111LAGBB/97 is a bit unwieldy) is a push-pull lock, which is basically a mortise lock without handles – opting for a push-pull action instead:
Your best bet would be to follow whatever you already have – this means if you already have a mortise lock, then you should just pick a digital mortise lock, or a push-pull lock. Some condos are fitted with deadbolts – in this case you may be well-served by replacing your deadbolt.
This is the simplest suggestion but doesn’t have to be 100% followed – a mortise lock CAN have a deadbolt added on top or below – you’ll just have to deal with the fact that your door will now have 2 locks – the original mortise lock and a new smart deadbolt. Likewise, a door with a deadbolt may be fitted with a mortise lock if space permits, but you should leave your original deadbolt there, or you’ll have to deal with a gaping hole in your door.
These are general guidelines on how to choose the type of lock that will work with your door, but ultimately you’ll have to actually check with your smart door lock retailer / installer on whether it will fit your particular door, probably by sending pictures and measurements. This applies to us, as well, if you’re looking to install an Aqara smart door lock – we will check with you to see if our lock can be fitted on your door.
But let’s get to the fun parts. What features of a digital door lock should you look out for?
Choosing your lock step 3: What features you should have
This really boils down to unlocking methods – which one makes your life easier and better? Going keyless is great, but how you interact with your door is important as well.
Remember, these are subjective opinions – though we have spoken to many clients and we like to think this is universal.
Most important: Biometric Fingerprint Identification
This is by far the best and easiest way to unlock your door. You don’t have to remember a PIN, or hide your code. You don’t have to carry a key or card, or worry about losing them. You’ll always have your fingers with you (hopefully). And it’s super secure (if you’re using the right products).
Most people love fingerprint unlock because it’s fast, easy, and secure. Even fingerprint unlock on phones is almost universally loved, compared to other methods (I’m looking at you, FaceID). Mostly, the people who don’t like it are people with unreliable fingerprints, or those with chronically sweaty fingers which may hamper fingerprint identifications. But this is why we have backup authentication methods.
To us, choosing a digital lock with fingerprint authentication is a no-brainer. It’s commonplace by now, and technology has allowed pretty quick fingerprint unlocking methods and speeds. However, we still highly recommend that you check among brands and models, because not all fingerprint readers are made equal.
Most important to us – find a lock with the fingerprint reader built into the handle, like our Aqara N100. This way, unlocking your door and opening your door becomes the same one movement – you’d be putting your thumb exactly where you would if you were opening your door anyway. This is the top reason why we love our Aqara N100 door lock – we can unlock + open the door in 0.8 seconds.
When lock shopping, you have to be careful and find out exactly how fingerprint authentication is done. Ask the sales people to allow you to add your fingerprints to the demo unit, so you can test for yourself how it feels to unlock it, and whether it works well for you without too many rejected tries. (You’re always welcome to add your fingerprints to our demo units – and unlock it as many times as you want). If it requires you to swipe your fingerprint, that’s old technology and should be avoided. If it requires you to flick the reader downward so you can read your print – consider that as an extra step you’ll have to do every single day. If the reader is placed in an awkward position, decide if that is something you can live with.
Second most important: RFID or NFC keycards or tags
We think this is second most important because we don’t like PIN codes. To be sure, this is highly subjective – do you want to enter a PIN and remain keyless, or do you want to bring a keycard? We prefer locks with a keycard function because it’s much more friendly to children and the elderly, both of whom may not have reliable fingerprints or memories.
There are certain advantages of NFC keycards (like the one our Aqara N100 uses) over the normal RFID cards that most other locks use, but we don’t think it’s a dealbreaker. The most important is that NFC cards cannot be duplicated.
These keycards are good because they’re reliable, can unlock doors well, and are usually very small and easy to bring along (unlike keys which can scratch phones). They don’t solve the problem of going keyless, but the fact that most digital locks have multiple unlocking methods mean you definitely should consider a lock with a keycard function.
Third most important: PIN codes
PIN codes are great because they allow you to go keyless, but there’s a few problems.
- They’re usually less secure than biometrics or keycards – it’s easy to memorize someone’s PIN if you manage to see it
- Many neighbours have cameras pointing outside their doors, maybe at your door. It may be possible to learn your PIN by reviewing cam footage.
- Entering PIN codes usually take longer than actually using a normal physical key
- Point 3 is made worse by many brands’ locks requiring you to input 2 random numbers before your actual PIN.
- Some people may forget their PIN codes and lock themselves out
Almost all locks have PIN codes, so they’re universal, but brands are different in how they want you to enter your PIN. As mentioned, many brands make entering PINs an annoying multi-step process – swipe the lock, enter random digits that light up, enter your PIN. It can take as long as 10 seconds, whereas using a key would take you 3 seconds. While you may think that 10 seconds is not that big a demand to unlock a door, consider that you’ll be doing it around 600 times a year.
The Aqara N100 allows you to enter PIN codes directly without any pre-steps. To combat the problem of people memorizing your code or looking at patterns on the lock itself, the N100 uses a very clever way of masking your PIN. You can add dummy numbers before and after your PIN, and as long as your PIN code exists somewhere in the string of numbers, your door will unlock.
For example, if your PIN code is 88768104, you can enter the following and it will unlock:
- 88705088768104923124 (the limit is 20 digits)
This will ensure that your code almost impossible to memorize, and won’t leave traces of clues as to what your real PIN is.
Also important – multiple PIN codes
The Aqara N100 smart lock supports up to 50 PIN codes. This means each member of the family, can have their own, individual code. Distant relatives, part-time helpers, babysitters, and your dog can also each have their own codes. In fact, you can even have multiple codes per person.
Having a unique code tied to each person is better for the reason that in the event you are revoking access to a certain user, you’ll only remove that person’s personal PIN. You won’t have to come up with, and memorize a new PIN again.
Fourth most important: Guest Access / Remote Unlocking
This is a pretty nice feature of newer locks, but it veers into smart lock territory (as opposed to digital lock). This is because to allow for remote unlocking, the lock has to be connected, either directly to your Wi-Fi (unlikely as it needs a lot of battery power to do that) or by Bluetooth to the hub, or some other connectivity. Having guest access means you’ll be able to unlock your door even when you’re not home. It’s arguable if this is a function that would be important to you, but it may be helpful when relatives visit and you’re home late, for example. The Aqara N100 can be unlocked remotely by the Apple Home app.
Sometimes, guest access can happen without connectivity, as in the case of our Aqara N100 door lock. Similar to your bank token, you can generate a 6 digit passcode on your phone, wherever you are. This 6 digit passcode is only valid for a timeframe of 20 minutes. Your door lock has a similar algorithm built-in that knows what the passcode is at any time of the day. With this generated 6 digit passcode, you’ll be able to send it to your guests by WhatsApp or SMS and they’ll be able to unlock you door by entering the code. Once used, the code will not be valid again.
Fifth most important: User management – fingerprints, PINs, and key cards
This is not so important since you won’t do it everyday, but it’s still nice to have a lock where it’s easy to add or remove prints, PINS, and key cards from the system. Some locks are marketed as “not needing an app” – these are good for the older folk who aren’t familiar with fiddling on their phones. However, this means adding or removing authentication methods has to be done by manually pressing buttons or other things on the lock itself, which in itself is probably going to need an instruction sheet.
We don’t shy away from needing an app, because that is honestly the best way to manage your entry methods. The Aqara N100 has to be set up with the Aqara Home app, and the app has a page devoted to User Management – you can add users with their own names. Under each user, you can register their personal fingerprints, PINs, and keycards. This makes management super simple. Babysitter quit? Just delete his prints, PINs or keycards from the lock in your app, conveniently located under his name, and there will be no more access instantly.
Sixth most important: Battery Life
Some people are shocked when they see the Aqara N100 Smart Lock with eight AA batteries in its battery compartment. “That’s a lot!” is the common response. Our response is: do you prefer changing 4 batteries once every 6 months, or changing 8 batteries once every 1.5 years?
Battery life isn’t a very important consideration, but we prefer a lock which lasts more than a year. Changing batteries every few months can be annoying.
How secure is your lock – mechanically?
This means the lock cylinders or other locking mechanism. Are they easy to pick? However, it’s really hard for the general public to know how secure their lock cylinders are. This is also why we don’t mention this in the top 6 features, since most locks more secure than traditional locks anyway.
The Aqara N100 has a highly secure C-grade cylinder. What does this mean? It’s China’s grading system for locks, using the GA/T 73-2015 standard. There’s an A-grade, B-grade, Super B-grade, and C-grade. A bit confusingly, C-grade is the best. It takes more than 4 hours to pick this lock.
Also important is the construction of your lock and deadbolt. Is it easy to pry off? Or totally destroy? Is it easy to kick your door down?
The Aqara N100 has an anodized aluminium construction and is built very solidly. Don’t just trust us – come and see our demo unit for yourself. And it has 3 deadbolts in the lockset, plus a fourth bolt. It’s really heavy duty.
How secure is your lock – digitally?
Can the digital lock be hacked? Maybe using some electromagnetic power? Or brute-force PIN codes? Does it have PIN or prints time-out on a certain number of wrong attempts? Does it have alarms that will ring in the event of suspected brute-force attempts or break-ins? Can you wirelessly hack it to unlock the door?
These are all valid concerns and very difficult to answer. It’s good to ask the door retailers, because these are things that will give you peace of mind.
The Aqara N100 Smart Lock has these digital security features:
- Damage sensors prevents tampering of the front panel – it emits a very loud alarm when tampered
- PIN code lock-out for 5 minutes after 5 incorrect tries
- Fingerprint lock-out for 5 minutes after 5 incorrect tries
- Electromagnetic protection against tesla coil attacks
- Fingerprint reader developed by Swedish company Precise Biometrics, which uses the same technology for security in financial institutions
- Highly secure, encrypted connection between rear and front panels
- NFC (near field communication) keycards with EAL5.0 encryption that cannot be duplicated (vs the usual RFID cards for other locks)
What happens when you run out of battery?
All locks should have some failsafe if the battery runs out. Check with your lock company on how to enter your home if your lock has no battery. In the case of the Aqara N100, you have two options:
- Use the physical key that comes with your lock (we recommend that the keys be kept somewhere not at home).
- Use a powerbank with a USB-C cable, and plug the cable into the USB-C port at the bottom of the panel. It’ll power the lock up.
Does it have smart features?
Despite being a smart home company, we also don’t think that being able to integrate a smart lock into your smart home is critical. What’s more important is really the everyday use of the lock itself. As we’ve said before, smart features are nice-to-have, but they’re definitely not must-haves. Some of the smart features we appreciate having, and that the Aqara N100 has is:
- Get phone notifications when the door is unlocked, complete with the person unlocking it (based on their personal PINs, keycards, or fingerprints)
- Review lock / unlock history
- Locking or unlocking remotely
- Integration with Apple Home
- Automations with Aqara Home or Apple Home
- For example, when Dad unlocks the door, turn on the AC (he’s always complaining that he’s hot)
Installing a digital door lock makes a real improvement to quality of life. It allows multiple unlocking methods, and allows you to go keyless. Maybe most importantly, you don’t have to worry if you lose a key, or worry that someone might make a copy of your key. There’s no need to change your whole lock when you break up with your boyfriend and you know he has a set of your keys, you can simply delete all his authentication methods in your app – instantly!
With all the models available in the market, it can be difficult finding the right product for you, at the right price. We honestly think there are WAY too many models in the market, and it gets really overwhelming. We hope that with a guide like this, Singaporeans can have a better understanding of digital and smart locks; the features that can be commonly found; and what to look out for.
Being a seller of our own locks, we’re of course inclined to invite you to consider our lock! It is, in our opinion, the best value lock in the market, hands down – all the great features at a superb price – and it can be fully integrated into your smart home! If you’d like to see the lock in person, we’ll be happy to show you (together with our other smart systems too, if you’re interested!) Just give us a call!